On the day of my birth there was a great storm. Three waka were lost, and my father, who was the rangatira, or chief of our tribe, spent the night out on the beaches. He made sure that the other craft were up safe from the storm and looked for those of the men who had been out on the waters when the wind blew up. He sang the awa moana to calm the storm: te wai nuku, te wai rangi, waters of the earth, waters of the heavens, tiihore mai i uta. tiihore mai i tai, clear off the land, clear off the sea.
My mother spent the night with the women of the tribe in the whare kohanga, where she labored through the pounding of the rain while the women sang the karakia to Hinenuitepo for the birth of a child. The wind was high and it flew through the thin walls of the birthing house and snatched their voices and hurled them out into the storm. It stole my father’s song as he worked and searched and chanted, and swept it away out to sea.
The songs, so lost, may have become intermingled on the wind, for while I was born whole of body and mind, and the sea and the heavens calmed on the morning of the next day, my own destiny and that of the sea were forever bound together, never to be separated. This is true of all my people, for the sea as much as the land is our home, but for me it was different. Tawhiri-matea , the atua of the storm, the god that watched over and guided so much restless power, now watched over me as well. From the moment of my birth, I have been at the mercy of the wind and the waves.
There was little sign of this unique bond in my childhood. I ran and shouted and played with the other children, and learned to paddle my small waka and navigate the shallow waters of Kokowhoko, the island of my tribe. I learned the karakia for my spear, and for my meals and my journeys, and the journeys of others. I collected the stubborn mussel and the sweet paua and made necklaces of their shells with my playmates. I was, in short, a child, an innocent.
But when my night dreams first started, the ones that left me sticky and confused and weak, my childhood ended. For it was then that my hair was cut, my tattooing began, and I took my place in the tribe as a warrior and the first son of my father. He had other sons by then, of course; I had two brothers and three sisters, but I was his firstborn son, and the tribe looked to me to lead them one day. I was a man now, with a man’s desires, and it was expected that I would marry and fight and bring honor to my tribe.
And fight I did; I proved myself in battle several times over, and ate the flesh of my enemies and took their heads for my trophies. My skill with the taiaha spear quickly grew to rival that of more seasoned warriors, and it seemed that Tu-whakaariki, who watches warrior-leaders, favored me indeed.
My father was in good health, and so I was in no hurry to marry. I had a takataapui in one of the other warriors, a companion of my heart. I needed no wife, for he fought by my side, and lay with me in the night, and I felt that no woman could be more precious to me. My younger brothers had both taken wives, and my youngest brother's wife was with child, but still I chose to remain with Tupai, my takataapui. I do not know that I ever would have married, even if things had come to pass far differently.
The pakeha traders who came to our island brought many good things, strong metal spearheads and close-woven blankets. We welcomed them with open arms and feasted them and traded with them with goodwill. But not everything they brought was good; some of the sailors brought diseases to our women and to the whole tribe, and many grew sick and wasted or died. Yet still we traded, for now the tribes to the north and south of us had the pakeha's muskets, and we too required them, or we would be at a disadvantage in battle.
And once we had muskets, we required powder and shot, and once we had used the powder and shot we required more, and the pakeha were always willing to sell it to us, for food or flax or shrunken heads or female companionship. It was dear, but we had no choice, it seemed; we needed muskets and powder to protect what we had, and we needed what we had to procure muskets and powder.
I hated it. Hated the smoke from the guns and the noise of the battle. Hated that I could no longer meet my enemies face to face, with honor. Hated the smell of the powder, and the growing numbers of the dead. Our neighbors fought with us, and sold our warriors’ heads for their own shot, and we did the same. It was less like war than senseless slaughter, and even utu lost meaning, as death in battle came from anonymous shot and not honorable combat with the taiaha.
I took to spending more and more time out in my waka, alone or with Tupai, between our battles. The waves and the sea birds calmed me, called to me. Only on the water was I at peace. My middle brother took over more and more of my duties in the tribe, sitting with my father to negotiate trades and deal with domestic business. I spent my days fishing out on the wide sea, while on land my brother learned to sing the karakia for weddings and funerals.
It was my brother who sang the karakia for Tupai, my takataapui, the companion of my heart, when he was killed by a musket shot in the same battle that claimed my father and more than half our warriors. A mighty tribe had descended on us from the north, like nothing we had ever seen before, armed to a man with muskets and bent on slaughter. The whole tribe went to meet them in battle, but few of us returned, most wounded in the flesh as well as the heart. We had lost not only our warriors, but much of our ancestral land.
I was at Tupai's side in the battle, but with the range and fury of the pakeha weapons, to be at someone's side means nothing. The air was filled with the foul smoke of their muskets, and we fired, and were fired upon, and then I heard my Tupai cry out and he fell, and I held him as his heart's blood spilled out upon the ground.
Mad with grief and anger, I stood over my takataapui’s body and fired and fired into the smoke until my powder and shot were gone. I could have killed them all and my desire for utu would not have been slaked; but I knew myself outnumbered, and I broke away at last. Gathering Tupai’s body in my arms, I left the battlefield. My takataapui would be buried at our marae with the ancestors; this last thing, I could give him.
I wept as I carried him, and I wept as he was placed in the sea-cave, and through the days of the tangi, and through my brother’s singing, and the wailing and grieving of the women. I wept for my takataapui, and for my father, and for our tribe, and for our land. I wept as though my tears would never run dry, as though the ocean itself felt my despair and grieved with me.
And when my weeping ended, I took my waka out into the dark, alone, and let the waves rock me until sleep overcame me.
I had always thought that the voices of the ancestors would come as a vision to those who heard them, or as spoken words placed whole into the mind. And perhaps they do, for others. For me, they came as a compulsion. At the time, I wondered if perhaps I had gone mad, but I know now that something so strong can only have come from the ancestors. When I awoke, still cradled by the waves, I knew, with a wordless certainty that felt bone-deep, that I must not return to the island.
I fought this new compulsion, thinking grief and exhaustion had perhaps driven me to madness. But in vain did I turn my waka toward my home, my marae, the burial ground of Tupai. The oar was lifeless in my grip, and the waves pushed me away from the land. I fought the impulse for hours, but to no avail. I was alone in the world, with nothing but my waka, my spear, and the clothing on my back. Kokowhoko, my whenua, my native land, had become wahi tapu to me.
Thus cast off, I gave in at last and let the compulsion draw me parallel to the shore until I sighted a pakeha whaling vessel. At the sight of it, I felt a clear sense of rightness and direction, and I knew what I was meant to do, though I still did not know why. I drew up alongside the whaler and made fast, grasping at the side chains and scrambling my way up until I stood on deck. And there I stood, in the midst of the toiling pakeha crew, who spoke to me in their strange Christian tongue, and pointed to indicate I should leave their ship.
But I stood firm, even before their leader, who tried to have me put overboard and back into my waka. I would not go back, but clung to a ring-bolt in the deck most obstinately, though he threatened to cut off my hands with his cutlass. In the end I was spared, but there is no room on a whaling ship for idle hands. I was put in the hold with the other sailors, and taught to turn my skill with the hunting spear to the wielding of the whaling harpoon. By the time the ship docked in Nantucket, I was a whaler, a harpooneer.
I always thought that when the time was right, the ancestors would call to me again, and I would return home. But in the many years that followed, in all the strange lands I saw and seas I sailed, I never returned to Kokowhoko, the island of my birth.
The Spouter Inn had little to recommend it, but my last ship had been driven back to Nantucket by a rough encounter with pirates that left us limping in with all spars akimbo rather than sailing in proud with a belly full of oil and ambergris. My pockets were close to empty, and from an innkeeper’s point of view, I had little to recommend me, either. I’d been out each day selling curios from the South Seas to raise enough to last until I took ship again, and was down to the last of my stock.
Gullible sailors will buy anything, particularly from a native man, when their pockets are flush with whaling money and they are newly ashore. I had some shrunken heads from the South Seas, though they were poor prizes, having no moko to speak of, and I’d sold several earlier in the week. But my last few specimens were so dilapidated that I was out for most of the night until I found a fool deep enough in his cups to value one, and I was tired and dispirited when I returned to the inn.
It was perhaps my fatigue that caused me to overlook the other body beneath the covers; fatigue, and the sheer surprise of it. The Spouter was cheap and mean, sure, but I had thought that my coin had ensured that my narrow bed at least was my own. In any case, I saw him not until I had put my things away, and sung my karakia to cleanse myself of the day’s tapu.
I brought out my little tiki carving, a crude likeness of the atua I’d found many voyages ago on a strange island, but which nonetheless reminded me of home. Out of whimsy, I had taken up the habit of offering it a bit of biscuit in the evenings, like the burnt offerings of the Roman Christians or the incense of the East. That done, I lit my pipe (a soothing indulgence I’d picked up from my fellow sailors) and climbed into my bed.
I noticed him then; how could I not? His yell was loud enough to raise the dead, and had I not had my pipe clamped firm between my teeth, I might have shouted as well. I attempted to restrain the intruder as he thrashed about in the blankets and shouted incoherently, and urged him to identify himself.
He would not answer, but called desperately for the landlord, writhing away from me and knocking my pipe so severely I thought he would set the bed afire. When the landlord came in, light in hand, my uninvited bedmate leapt up and ran for him as though Peter Coffin were a calm shelter in a dangerous gale. I could not catch their low words as they argued, but then Coffin raised his voice, and speaking slowly and stupidly, as all the pakeha do when talking to me, he informed me that this man would be sharing my bed for the night.
"You sabbee?" he asked me, and I told him I "sabbee plenty," throwing him a glare to let him know that I had cottoned on to his scheme to double-book the bed and thus increase his own profit. My erstwhile bedmate was still standing by him, pale and unsteady on his feet. I realized that if I had had a fright, to find a stranger in my bed, this poor sailor had been equally alarmed to find a full-grown warrior with a foolish pipe suddenly climbing under the covers with him.
I turned down the covers for the man, gesturing for him to get back in the bed. It was surely not his fault that Coffin’s penny-pinching had landed us both half-berths for the night, and I’d slept closer on many a ship. But although he relaxed a bit, he refused to get in until I had put out my pipe, which I promptly did, and rolled over with my back to him so as to show I meant him no harm.
Then he turned in right away, and from the snores of him, had no trouble finding his sleep.
I am no tohunga, and the voices of the ancestors are rarely as clear to me as they had been the morning I left Kokowhoko. But they must have come to me in dreams that night and given me a sign, for when I awoke in the morning it was with the stranger of the night before held tight in my arms and again, that overwhelming bone-deep knowledge singing in my blood. Whoever this pale sailor was, I felt overwhelmingly that he would share my fate, and I his. As I had been drawn to board that whaler, wherever she might be bound, I now felt called to follow this man.
It was a shock, even for one so accustomed to the ebb and flow of life’s events as I: to go to bed more or less alone in the world, despite the machinations of rogue landlords, and to awake as near married as may be, and to a Christian pakeha sailor at that, one whose name I still did not know. A sailor who was even now waking and beginning to extricate himself from my arms.
Knowing how most sailors and most Christians view men who lie together, I determined that my best course would be to feign sleep, that my companion would not realize I had been awake, and so I continued to embrace him. This became more and more difficult as he struggled in my grasp, and wriggled and protested with increasing vigor.
There was, in fact, a great deal of enthusiastic wriggling, and soon there awoke another part of me that I wanted him to notice far less than my arms. I pretended to awake, then, and let him go, rubbing my eyes to free them of sleep. It was then that I got my first good look at the man. He was quiet against the covers now, watching me even as I watched him, and the morning sun shone wan on his face.
I could not help but stare, drawn to notice every detail of this stranger to whom I felt so inexplicably bound. I felt that he should appear somehow extraordinary, but while his face was not unpleasant, nor was it distinguished by any great beauty. Like many pakeha, his hair and eyes were brown, and he was clean-shaven. He looked young, less battered by weather and waves than most men I’d sailed with, and I wondered if he was as untried as he looked.
Unremarkable he was, and yet, to me, he was beautiful. My body reacted to him hungrily, and I forced myself to look away, attempting to control my growing reaction. I devoted a few moments of distracting thought to the things I might do that day before heading to Nantucket, then removed myself from the bed, letting the chill New Bedford air take care of the last of any affront to his modesty.
His modesty, I say, for these Christians are all so particular about what of the body can be seen and what should be hidden; for my part, I had no such ridiculous ideas. I went about my morning ritual as I might on any other day. I put on boots and hat first, to warm my chilled extremities, and then, at the urging of my companion, I put on my pantaloons.
He, of course, was still warm abed, and he watched me with an avid eye as I went about my toilet. His gaze so heated my skin it almost lessened the shock of the cold washing-water, and it made me wonder if in fact this particular Christian sailor did not feel somewhat differently from his brethren when it came to the ways of men together. But I was still reeling from the circumstances of my awakening and the revelation that had come with it; I did not dwell on this thought for long, but finished shaving and headed downstairs. His eyes followed me still as I went through the door.
He came down to the common room as I was eating breakfast, and he watched me then too, but I did not speak to him. I needed to take time to think, to make my prayers to the atua and clear my head, and if this young sailor was indeed fated to be so bound up with me, there would be time to speak with him later. He ate heartily, himself, and as I lit my pipe he went out into the town, and I was once again alone.
I rid myself of the last of my heads but one that day, as a new ship had come in and the lads were drunk and flush with their share, and returned early to the Spouter Inn. I had meant, after the disturbance of the night before, to have a word with old Peter Coffin about the berth and demand my own. Instead, I told him that I didn’t mind him selling half my bed, but that the young sailor and I would pay only half the price apiece if he wished to continue the arrangement. To his credit, he readily agreed, telling me (loudly and slowly) that he’d been out of beds the night before and the poor man had had nowhere else to sleep.
I was already by the fire with my pipe and my carving when my sailor returned. I gave up the warmer seat to him, as he looked chilled to the bone, and went to flip through a book on the table. The book I’d found was sadly lacking in pictures, and I’d never bothered myself to learn to read, but there were illustrations here and there, mostly of pakeha men and women. Some of them had wings, which puzzled me, and others had circles above their heads that seemed to float unattached.
As I flipped through, I could feel him watching me again. Perhaps his ancestors or Christian gods had given him some indication, as mine had given me, of the connection that was between us. Whatever the reason, it seemed his gentle gaze could not be swayed from me; I felt it, a palpable attention on my skin, a draw toward him. But I stayed still, and busied myself with the pages before me, and let him look his fill. At last he drew nearer, pulling his bench up close to mine, and addressed me.
It was awkward, at first; this man to whom I felt so bound did not yet know my name, nor I his. But we soon managed to make our introductions and determine that we would again share a bed that night. I hope I did not look too eager at that news, but I was pleased to hear that he had not been frightened off by our unexpected encounter the night before, nor by my waking embrace in the morning. He seemed quite friendly, in fact, and now that we had begun, we talked quite easily.
That is, we were quite easy with one another, despite our difficulties in conversation. Though I had been for many years among the Christians, my accent is still strange to their ears, and unlike those who speak to me as though I am a simpleton, this Ishmael (for that was his name), once at his ease, rattled on at such a pace that I could not entirely keep up with his words. But we jabbered at each other the best we could, and the flow of words gave a lively semblance to the quiet bond forming between us.
He proposed a smoke, and I offered my pipe and tobacco, and thus our partnership was made official, as we shared the pipe. I looked at him, wreathed in fragrant smoke, eyes half-closed in contentment, and the last of my anxieties melted away. There was something about this unremarkable sailor that called to me powerfully, and I saw no need to fight it; I could see that he was a good man, of good heart, however Christian. Once our pipe was done, I embraced him, on impulse. He seemed startled but not displeased, and when I leaned in and shared breath with him in the hongi I could feel him smile.
Perhaps I was precipitate in my affections, but there was a rightness to this man, and I could tell by the heat of his gaze and the way he behaved so warmly toward me that he felt our connection as well. I touched my nose to his one last time and tried to tell him, as best I could, of the bond I felt with him. There are no words in the pakeha language that mean takataapui, and so I tripped over the words, and perhaps I did not say quite what I meant to say, but he seemed unsurprised and undismayed, and that was good, too.
We dined and smoked another pipe, and then, in wordless accord, headed as one for the room we were again to share. He looked as though he wished to protest when I gave him half of my belongings (those that could be divided), but I think he understood my intent in the end, and accepted them. If we were to share our destinies, as warriors do for a brief time in battle or as men and women do when they choose to marry, then we would share everything.
By this point I was almost sure that he was not one of those Christians who revile men who lie with men, and furthermore, that he wished to share my bed in more than sleep that night. And my body was eager for it, as it had been too long since I had taken comfort in any but my own hand, and as I say, he was beautiful to me. But first, I needed to cleanse the day’s tapu and make all noa.
When he sat beside me as I sang the karakia, I could not believe my good fortune. Christians may tolerate the ways of others, but most manage even tolerance with ill grace. Here was a Christian who would join me as I recognized the atua, though they were not his gods. My ancestors had done well, to pair me with such a man, who would join with me so unquestioningly in all things. It is rare that one warrior is given to have two takataapui in one lifetime, but I truly felt that perhaps such luck had now come to me.
We went to bed together, and yet I did not lie with him as my body wished, but rather lay down with him in the utmost comfort. I felt strangely unhurried in my desire, and Ishmael seemed to feel the same. We lay tangled as intimately as lovers, arms and legs entwined, and yet we spent the time talking and laughing. Ishmael curled down into the blanket with me, shutting his eyes, and talked of this and that in a sleepy voice. Occasionally one or the other of us would drift off, but there was no true sleep that night.
Eventually, however, we sat up and struck a light, so as to share a pipe together in greater comfort. And as we sat and smoked, my companion asked me to tell him more of myself, and desired to know the tale of how a warrior such as myself had come to be a Nantucket harpooneer. His curiosity warmed me, for few pakeha had shown such interest in my people or my history.
I told my tale, but I am afraid he found it quite odd, and I was forced to leave out some things for lack of the proper pakeha words. I could give him the bare bones of the story, but the things I most wanted to say, I think, went unexpressed. He listened to me patiently, and asked questions to draw me out, and then at the last enquired as to my purpose in New Bedford.
When I told him I hoped to sign on with a whale ship, his face fairly transformed with his enthusiasm, and he clasped my hand in his as he assured me that that was his own purpose, and that he had been to sea several times before, as a merchant seaman. I told him then that we two should stick together, that I would look out for him, and that we might share a berth and a mess on the same voyage and not be parted. He assented with great joy, and we smoked the last dying puffs of the pipe between us to seal the bargain.
His hand was warm on mine, and his delight made him more beautiful than ever. Hoping that I had not been wrong about the way his desires lay, I leaned in and put my forehead to his. He smiled, and said my name, and then his lips touched mine, full of trust and want and heat, and I licked at them. His breath caught, and he rolled over in our shared bed to press himself more fully alongside me. So closely entangled were we then that I could not mistake his desire for me for anything other than honest need.
Honest need from an honest man, and I met it with desire of my own. My Ishmael’s hands and lips were clever, and he proved no innocent in the ways of men together. And I, in turn, gave him every pleasure I knew to give, everything I knew would please from my early explorations with Tupai and my few brief encounters in the pakeha world. Even as I gave to him, I learned from him what touches and places he liked best, and I drank in the knowledge as eagerly as the pleasure; indeed, they were one and the same.
When at last he thrashed against me, making small, hungry noises into my mouth, I was so overcome that I could not help but follow him into his bliss. And then, replete, we lay there together for some time, trading slow, lazy kisses and rambling half-conversations. With Ishmael in my arms, I felt at last as though the long years since I had left my home had some purpose beyond wandering.
The ancestors had left me without whanau or whenua when they had sent me away from Kokowhoko at Tupai's death to wander the seas. And without land or family, I was lost, floating aimlessly on one whaling ship and another, moving from place to place without purpose. But this pakeha sailor filled something of that emptiness, gave me someone to belong to, and who belonged to me. I had not realized how much of myself was aching for such a man until I had found him.
And so thinking, I gathered him close and we fell as one into a brief and dreamless sleep. The next day, we set out for Nantucket in search of a ship.
It was fine traveling weather, dry with a fair wind in our sails, and made all the fairer by Ishmael’s good company. We traded stories as we went, of foolish mistakes made far from home, and when our stories ran dry we shared companionable silence. It was good to be on the water again, with the prospect of a ship and a voyage ahead, and not a lonely one, at that.
There was one young fool on our schooner who thought to mock me, his elder and his better, by aping my movements behind my back and making rude faces. I saw him at it, but ignored the insult. Rather than growing tired of his jest, he capered more, as his companions watched and sniggered. Presently, he began to poke at me, reaching up to tweak my topknot.
A warrior’s head is tapu and it should have been death to him to touch it. I spared him for his ignorance, but taught him greater respect through the quick application of a harpooneer’s strong arm. It was but a tap, a quick reprimand for an upstart child, but he whined and sniveled and ran for the Captain of the schooner like the cowardly youth he was.
All was forgotten in an instant when the lad was swept overboard by a boom come loose while the Captain wasted his attention berating me. For my part, I might have let the fool drown, but Ishmael was with me, and I felt that I should act for his sake, as his distress at the situation was palpable. I secured the schooner's boom that my Ishmael might not be injured by its wild lashings, and dove after the young idiot.
And when I surfaced, rude boy waterlogged but alive under one arm, the Captain begged my pardon and all was fair sailing again, with both passengers and crew. But I cared only for the look in Ishmael's eyes, which shone with admiration and heat. And had we not been on a small schooner, had we had a moment and a berth to ourselves, I would have been sore tempted to do more than simply look, with his desire writ so strong in his face.
Instead, I washed the salt from my skin and changed into my drier clothes, and touched only Ishmael’s hand. Only his hand, and yet that bare brush of skin nonetheless began a slow burn of desire in my flesh that simmered just beneath the surface for the remainder of our journey until we reached Nantucket.
We found accommodations at an inn called the Try Pots – the shared bed that had once had been a midnight inconvenience was now a pleasure, but we were able to convince the landlady that it was of economic necessity that we were forced to share quarters, thus saving our silver and our secret both. We ate a chowder supper with good dispatch and retired to make our plans.
But all plans were made to wait, at least some short while, while the simmer and burn of desire kindled on the journey was sated. No sooner had our door closed than Ishmael fell on me as a starving man falls on bread, pulling at my clothes, stripping me and touching me and tasting me as though he might never have his fill. The want that had lain banked within me since our brief touch of hands on the schooner flared, and I returned his attentions with the same lack of restraint, tearing at his buttons and ties, desperate to get at the skin underneath.
No sooner had I divested him of his layers of clothing than he pressed me back to the bed, so insistent that I could not but bend to his wishes. Despite my own strong desires, I was rendered speechless by the sheer force of his need and by the skill of his clever tongue. I could do nothing in the face of his amorous onslaught but groan and shake and spill myself into his mouth with incoherent praises.
And no sooner had he drunk his fill of me but that he raised himself up, and kissed me deeply, and gasped as he rocked hard against me. His need and urgency were so great that it was a matter of moments before he pulled his mouth from mine and choked out my name, shuddering and trembling above me as though he might break apart. I wrapped my arms tight about him and held him as he shook, until at last his breathing calmed and he raised his head and kissed me. I cannot but think that my face must have held a similar expression to his own at that moment, flushed with exertion and wonder and tenderness.
Sleepy though we then were, we still had before us the settling of the next day’s plan. However, I had some difficulty in making Ishmael understand that he, and he alone, was to choose our vessel. I felt sure, in the bone-deep way that I had felt the pull of the whaler and the rightness of Ishmael, that he should lead in this matter, and that I should follow. He protested, citing his own inexperience, but I told him that I had had a message from the ancestors, and would not be swayed. At last, he agreed that he would go alone and choose our ship. It was not long after that that sleep found us, wearied from our travel and our recent exertions.
That same night I was visited by a moe papa, the dreams that warn warriors of ill luck to come. I dreamed that the ship Ishmael had chosen grew a great tail, like a many-masted taniwha of prodigious size, and swam through the sea without regard for the winds or tides. In my dream, the ship swam back to Kokowhoko, the island of my people, and the waka came out to meet it. But instead of offering fruits and potted birds and flax, the warriors raised huge spears, like harpoons, and hurled them sharp at the ship. And rather than impervious wood, the ship was flesh, and was wounded by the spears, and bled and sounded and thrashed and thrashed until it was tangled canvas and splinters afloat in the blood-stained sea.
Had Ishmael been less focused on his task the next morning, he might have noticed my preoccupation, as I worried over the meaning of my dream. But he was focused on the prospect of a ship, and devoured his chowder at first light and went down to the docks for the day, determined to choose well. I elected to stay in our room, much disturbed in my mind and heart by the ill portents of the night before.
The ancestors did not often speak to me, and I had felt certain that I was following the path they had set out. But if I were truly following the right path, then why the conflicting moe papa? I resolved to take the day and make every attempt to divine the true intent of the ancestors, and so set my mind at rest.
The problem was, I found, that I had no idea how to do so. Twice before, I had been given such direction unasked-for, but I had not the faintest inkling of how to call on the ancestors with intent. I tried to return to bed, reasoning that my other certainties had been given to me while sleeping, but my body remained stubbornly awake. I tried singing the karakia to make all noa, but while it calmed me somewhat, it gave me no new clarity. Frustrated, I tried everything I had heard of in all my travels; I abstained from food, and smoked a pipe, and even burnt biscuit for my little tiki statue.
All day I stayed shut up in the room, as Ishmael was out at the docks, trying one thing after another and growing progressively more hungry and frustrated. At last I decided that perhaps a deep meditative state would be conducive to receiving instruction from the ancestors, and I settled myself on the floor and turned my thoughts inward.
I must have been successful, at least in part, for when I came out of my trance, it was dark, the dark of the night heading into dawn, and Ishmael was asleep in our bed. And whether it was due to the effects of my meditation, a message from the ancestors, or merely the sight of him, I felt my inner conflict ease. It did not matter, after all, if following this man led me into ill luck or worse. It simply did not matter. I had lost my takataapui once, and been so broken by it that I had left my homeland and all I knew to wander the seas alone. The ancestors had led me to this man, an unexpected gift, a second chance at happiness. I would not lose my Ishmael, not at any cost.
I arose from the floor, stiff muscles protesting, and crossed to the bed, watching him for a moment as he slept. He made a low noise and snuffled further into the pillows, flinging out an arm as if to reach for me, and I went to him gladly. I tried to be careful, but he woke as I crawled under the covers and smiled at me muzzily. I kissed him softly, heart full to breaking, and lay down in his embrace for a few short hours.
When I awoke, tangled with Ishmael in our narrow bed, I was at peace. The night’s takiri had been favorable; indeed, what can be more auspicious than waking to find one’s arms full of a sleepy, warm bedmate? He breathed softly into my neck, still asleep, and I felt his morning hardness against my hip as he embraced me. He woke up when I took him in hand and stroked him; woke and blinked and gasped against me and rocked his hips until he spilled into my hand. To my delight, he was a fair-minded man, even muzzy with morning, and he made sure I had my pleasure as well before we rose and dressed.
In his monkey jacket and pantaloons, he seemed subdued, a pale Christian like any other, but he was mine now, taaku pakeha, and I would have known him among a thousand other such. We had to ready ourselves this morning to sign with the Pequod, for that was the name of the ship that Ishmael had chosen, and we packed our things in a comfortable silence.
Before we went out from our room I took the hei matau that was all I had left of Kokowhoko from where it hung around my neck, the pounamu warm from my skin. I was able to explain well enough to make Ishmael understand that he was to wear it, and he seemed so pleased by my gift that a warmth rose within my breast as I settled it around his neck.
I know I seemed strange to him, and though I had been among the paheka for more than half my life, still they seemed strange to me. But the gods had brought us together, myself and this young and untried Ishmael, and he wore my hei matau with a gruff smile and a heat in his eyes I had not hoped to find in my life among Christian men.
Down at the docks, I met the owners of the Pequod. They were loath to ship me, as I was not a member of any Christian congregation, but my Ishmael gave them such silver-tongued evidence of our common humanity that I was asked to give proof of my skill. Having seen what I could do with my harpoon, they signed both of us straightaway, as I had suspected they might, and at a good share.
I signed my mark to the ship’s papers after Ishmael. But as I worked the pen, I looked up, to see my takataapui watching me. I knew then that it was not truly the ship I was joining myself to, nor yet the whales that I would follow across all the oceans of the world. I had found my whanau and whenua again, against all odds, and I would hold fast to him on whatever land or sea.